A Real – Life Christmas Miracle: 40th Anniversary.

Christmas should be a time to focus on the good news – including the “Good News” that is the origin of the word “Gospel”. Here’s some good news, to counter the depressing stuff coming from the Vatican and some other bishops in their war on marriage.

During Midnight Mass tonight, I was struck and impressed the homily by our local priest. Referring first to Justin Martyr, writing  in the second century on how the early offertory collection was used to support all the poor and needy of the community, he then took us further back in history, to the familiar description in Acts of how the early Christians supported each other in all their material needs, so that none ever suffered real material want. This, he pointed out, may well have contributed to the explosive growth in numbers of the early church. How different it is today, he went on pointedly, when in what is theoretically one of the world’s rich countries, there is nevertheless extensive real poverty alongside extraordinary wealth. There was no need to spell out too explicitly the obvious point – at Christmas time especially, we should be taking our responsibilities to the poor, and to doing something about correcting the problem of entrenched, structural inequality and poverty.

Then after I came home, scanning through some recent posts at V2 Catholic, I came across this, apparently referring to a real – life Christmas miracle, when a Catholic parish from El Paso, Texas, did precisely that:

40th Anniversary: On Christmas Day 1972, Fr Rick Thomas SJ and his USA El Paso prayer group went across the border to Juarex in Mexico, taking enough food for 150 people who eked out a living at the local rubbish dump. 300 people showed up, but the food didn’t run out, and even plenty left over. Google “miracle of the rubbish dump” for this beautiful true story

Taking up the suggestion to Google “miracle of the rubbish dump”, this is what I found.

First, at Soulfood Cinema, I found this synopsis of a documentary film made about the story, “Viva Cristo Rey (1981)“:

One Christmas, a wonderful miracle took place on the city rubbish dump at Juarez, Mexico. In response to a prophecy, a local church just across the United States border prepared a dinner for the 125 people who live by scavaging on the dump. However, over 250 turned up! The miracle of God’s grace and provision that followed radically altered the outlook of this small group of Catholic Christians and their leader Father Rich Thomas. On the rubbish dump, there was no water, no sanitation, no education, and no hope. Everyone had TB and the stench was unbearable. Some who worked the dump didn’t even know it was Christmas day… All this was to change. In the greater miracles that followed, these outcasts of human society responded in repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The film contains the eye-witness accounts of many people who were challenged by these events in Juarez.

Fr Tommy Lane’s blog carries a homily he prepared for the 18th Sunday of Year A, for which the Gospel tells the story of the loaves and fishes – and he tells the story of the miracle of the Juarez rubbish dump – and notes that the miracle was repeated in different forms, on subsequent occasions.

It is not the only time a miracle happened in the dump in Juarez; that miracle of multiplication of food was repeated there many times, e.g. on another occasion they didn’t have enough cartons of milk for everyone but when they came to the end of handing out cartons, everyone had a carton of milk. After the miracle on Christmas Day 1972 a beautiful Christian community grew up in the dump and many wonderful events have taken place since then.

Read Fr Lane’s homily in full, for the important lessons it carries on responding to the call of Christ. In a footnote, he adds that

 (The miracle of Juarez is the subject of the video “Viva Cristo Rey” which is available from International Films, 235 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2H 8EL. It is produced by Catholic Charismatic Services Inc, USA.)

At Hands for Christ Ministry, I found a more extended description, with slightly higher estimates of the numbers, and also with the story of one of the subsequent “miracles” the film synopsis referred to:

Among the members of the prayer group that wet Christmas day more than 30 years ago was a middle-aged U.S. postal worker named Frank Alarcon.

While Frank was at the dump that day he saw a weary old man off in the distance, away from the people at the dinner, carrying a heavy black bag.  Frank never got close enough to the old man to see what was in the bag. Perhaps the old man was carrying salvage from the dump.  Or perhaps he carried all of his worldly belongings. Frank would never know.

But the impact of seeing that old man out in the fading light on Christmas Day, alone in the dump, stuck with Frank Alarcon.  Days later in El Paso Frank fell to his knees and felt the physical presence of the love of Christ.  On his knees he begged Jesus to allow him to work with the people at the dump – people like the old man.

Frank always said, “Be careful what you ask of God, He may just give it to you.”  Frank retired from the post office in 1986 and started working at a community center at the site of the dump, which closed in 1991.  The community center grew and Frank was its director until his death in 2011.  Frank always said, “The real executive director is Jesus Christ.” Frank passed away on the birth date of the late Father Rick Thomas.

If people asked Frank Alarcon about the “Christmas Miracle” he was always reluctant to talk about it.  “The real miracle in this world is the Eucharist,” he said.  “Every day, all over the world, you can witness the miracle of the presence of the Body and Blood of our Savior.  And it is available to all of us in the Mass.  That’s the miracle we should focus on.”


I cannot vouch for the historical accuracy of the story – but see no reason to doubt it. Do your own investigation, and decide for yourself. But at face value, whether fact or fiction is irrelevant: it remains a potent reminder of what the Christian faith should be all about – not the insane distraction of a campaign against marriage.
Merry Christmas, one and all.
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